Son of Saul Screen 40 articles

Son of Saul


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  • By adhering to its protagonist’s subjectivity, it pretends to keep its horrors largely off-camera, always implying that its aesthetic approach is The Right One. We are invited to find it proper, even tasteful, because we hear rather than see murder, or because images of humans being shot in the head and dropped into pits are kept out of focus. It’s not a cinema of ideas, but one of rigidity, constructed entirely of an arbitrary set of moral principles.

  • Directed by Laszlo Nemes, making his feature directing debut, this radically dehistoricized, intellectually repellent movie tracks the title Sonderkommando, one of the Jewish prisoners whom the Nazis forced to help run their death machines... Mr. Nemes’s technical virtuosity is evident every meticulously lighted, composed and shot step of the way, which means that your attention is continually being guided as much to his cinematic abilities as to the misery on screen.

  • One shudders to think what it must have been like to shoot and record the sound for this film: what is it like to make extras simulate the sound of being gassed to death? How do you go about choreographing the Sonderkommando’s labors with a pile of naked female corpses? In the end, Son of Saul is an exploitation film not despite but because of its technical skill and resolute cunning. And it does not—unfortunately—require courage to experience.

  • The film appears like a holocaust video game, our character watched in third person as a maelstrom of horror whirls around him and we barely glimpse the world outside the blinkered, down-trodden vision of a man crushed in spirit and humanity... My eyes were sore for a long time after watching, such is the effect of this intense requirement to hold onto a single figure in the frame as he pushes through the world with a camera latched itself onto him.

  • Nemes is without question a gifted technician, but this brazen act of showboating seems less a considered challenge than a glib response to the vast body of writing and thinking on the representability of the Holocaust, beginning most obviously with Jacques Rivette’s attack on the use of the tracking shot in Gillo Pontecorvo’s Kapo. For better or more likely worse, Son of Saul is a film that will spawn a thousand think pieces.

  • It's a brilliant conceit at five minutes, and a monotonous one at the 107 that the film runs... The technique continually impresses even as the moral perspective of the enterprise is ultimately squelched by all the aural-visual gimmickry. This descent into genocidal hell might better be titled Holocaust: The Ride.

  • As choreography and craftsmanship, Son of Saul is impeccable; where it stumbles is in the increasingly bogus relationship between the whirling maelstrom of its surfaces and the rickety dramatic structures underneath... Son of Saul offers ostentatious formalism as an entry point into impossibly complicated issues of history and representation. Nemes’s style is undeniable, but it might also just be a brilliant disguise: the handed-down vestments of an ascendant yet fundamentally unclothed emperor.

  • The technical proficiency of this cavalcade of horrors, abundant in long takes and shot/reverse shots so seamlessly edited together as to give the sense of the film being a single movement, is undeniable. But Son of Saul‘s meticulous orchestration calls attention to its dubious sense of purpose, which lies beyond human subjectivity.

  • It’s a harrowing story, as Tamás Zányi’s sound design spells out the horror left in soft focus behind Rohrig’s head. Yet while Nemes criticized “Schindler’s List” as “conventional,” all that’s new here is the hyper-realistic technique: Saul’s quest is not very far from the girl in the red dress.

  • "Son of Saul" is most valuable for its attention to the themes and ideas in Lanzmann's work. Nemes admirably re-instigates discussion of the awe-inspiring, complex, and yet unassimilated experience of Lanzmann's films—and does so perhaps even more discerningly than much written criticism does. Yet without "Shoah" "Son of Saul" Would be meaningless; in the light of "Shoah," "Son of Saul"—though useful and provocative—is, nonetheless, nearly superfluous.

  • A Jewish man and a Jewish boy take a roller coaster tour of Auschwitz... Don’t worry about tears. Prepare your wince lines. Director László Nemes is after intensity and grace in that order, first and overwhelmingly the harrowing thrill-ride machinery of the death camp designed to catch you and drag you off to the end if you’re not careful, and then and only then the question of what’s up with Saul.

  • For me, I think Son Of Saul tries a little too hard, its mechanism too obvious, and the film can also feel like a manipulative pummeling. There's no denying that this is a masterclass of tight, precise filmmaking, with every shot technically composed to achieve the overwhelming effect of horror, from the near-stampede at the mass graves, the howling victims horded into the chambers. But if Son Of Saul wanted us to find a faint glimpse of humanity in what looks and feels like hell, we didn't.

  • First-time director Laszlo Nemes constructs the movie—reportedly the only one at Cannes screening from 35mm—out of long, energetic, complicated handheld takes, executed with razor precision and marked by continually shifting focus and the itching movement of the characters.

  • ...Thousands of people are being murdered just beyond the lens’ focal length, and the moral dilemma of a single individual feels almost irrelevant. It’s as if Saving Private Ryan, rather than being a brutal, sensorial replication of what it was like to land on Normandy Beach on D-Day, had chosen to concoct some maudlin story about Tom Hanks and his platoon searching for the son of one grieving mother, and telling him to “earn this.”

  • While Nemes relentlessly keeps the laconic, impassive Saul in close-up, the camera following his movements in a manner not too dissimilar to its counterpart in the Dardennes’ Rosetta, I could not help but feel that a far more interesting film was taking place in the background of every shot, as a genuine resistance movement against the unparalleled barbarism of the Nazi camp-system is hatched.

  • Son of Saul is as difficult to dismiss summarily as it is to embrace uncritically. Is this legitimate ambivalence or mere wishy-washiness? For me, the upshot is that, if I’m honest, I’ll admit that the film works on a purely visceral level. Nemes’ undeniable technical finesse allows the viewer to enter a kind of sensorium that replicates the experience of a representative of a Sonderkommando unit.

  • Kudos to Nemes for a formal conceit designed not to rub our noses in Auschwitz, but he still can't totally avoid doing so. Half-glimpsed brutality is such a baseline component of Son of Saul that it's tempting to feel suspicious that merely inflicting pain is its M.O.; on the other hand, its presence in the frame, so often at the margins, seems important to consider.

  • The filmmaker’s goal isn’t a sensitively lit, emotive drama, with wide views that might suggest a sense of comprehension that feels unrealistic in the living death of camp existence; indeed, its biggest weakness lies in the workmanlike screenplay, packed and punctual... Technically, Son of Saul is a bravura feat, especially its wrenchingly detailed and textured sound design, truly evoking a factory of death.

  • One of the most terrifying radio dramas I have ever listened to is the soundtrack of offscreen events in László Nemes’s film Son of Saul. It’s a maelstrom of screamed orders, clanking machinery, grinding motors, brutal beatings and random shootings that hardly ever dies down.

  • It is stating the obvious to say of any Holocaust film that it shows the concentration camps as an earthly hell. But the observation takes on genuine meaning with Hungarian drama Son of Saul, which not only gives the metaphor a powerful new charge in terms of dramatic intensity, but represents a serious attempt to rethink the visual codes of depicting the atrocities of the Shoah.

  • The shallow-focus compositions and the use of the Academy aspect ratio have the effect of placing Saul’s head at the center of the almost square frame, while the action behind him remains an out-of-focus blur. It’s a perfect visual representation of a mental state that has long since absorbed the unthinkable. The experience of watching “Son of Saul,” then, is not unlike that of navigating the inner circles of Dante’s Inferno with the Dardenne brothers.

  • If Claude Lanzmann's "Shoah" proceeds obliquely, on the principle that it's hubris for anyone who wasn't present to try to understand the Holocaust directly, Nemes's film goes to the opposite extreme, adopting an almost relentless you-are-there focus... "Son of Saul" is a remarkable film built on contradictions, and it deserves a much-longer and thorough analysis than the frenzy of a festival context allows.

  • This is an ingenious formal innovation that the director, Laszlo Nemes, maintains for 107 minutes. He’s made a war movie through a moral and psychological keyhole. There’s a lot you don’t see, but Röhrig’s hard face and kind eyes fill in a lot of blanks, as does the sound design, by Tamás Zányi. It anticipates that your limited vision will enhance your sense of hearing. The gun shots, barking dogs, mewling women and children, and crackling flames become an atrocious orchestra.

  • The technical prowess involved is immense, all the more so for having used an unwieldy 35mm camera: in their movements, pace, proximity and duration, the shots are exceptionally complex, yet they are executed with the utmost precision and always kept in perfect focus. The result is claustrophobic and overwhelmingly intense and the film barely slows down for a single one of its 107 minutes.

  • The subject matter is unrelenting. Multiple sequences are filmed as long takes, and a few traverse incidents of endless chaotic movement and panic that are incredibly hard to watch. Nemes doesn’t dare stretch the frame any further. Still, Son of Saul’s stylistic imprint convincingly suggests that survival is not a day-to-day event, but a moment-to-moment one.

  • Nemes’ visual language for conveying these atrocities is resolutely peripheral, and his film’s use of shallow focus is a career-making tour de force... To let these appallingly suggestive images seep in is the film’s key achievement: to do so in the stark confines of a 4:3 aspect ratio gives it a boxed rigour that’s even more challenging and striking.

  • The film is about an obsession, which is precisely why it manages to avoid sentimentality: obsession and sentimentality are mutually exclusive, something obsessive is by definition “unsentimental,” and we are 100 percent on the side of the obsessive main character here.

  • There is to my mind almost no doubt that Nemes is a great director. It is a long time, if ever, since I have seen a first-time film crackling with such cinematic intelligence. Nor have I any doubts about recommending that anyone who wants to see a great example of the seventh art get to a good cinema to see Son of Saul as soon as it is released.

  • Day 2 delivered a bombshell debut in the form of Hungarian filmmaker’s Laszlo Nemes’s harrowing, ultra-immersive Auschwitz drama, Son of Saul. [It features] undeniably virtuoso plan séquence camerawork that owes more than a little to Béla Tarr... Redefining the ne plus ultra for cinematic depictions of the Holocaust, it was certainly one of the most polarizing films I’ve ever seen at Cannes, or perhaps anywhere.

  • Son of Saul is the riskily innovative feature debut of Hungary’s László Nemes, a former assistant director to master of formal rigour and philosophical weight Bela Tarr. [It's] a hellish assault of sense impressions that strives for a new language in depicting the Holocaust.

  • Whether Nemes crosses the line is a matter of personal taste, but there's no question that he's aware of that line, because nearly every second in Son of Saul feels like an act of aesthetic calculation. What we see and don't see, what we hear and don't hear — all rigorously determined to evoke a historical evil as fully as possible without marinating in it.

  • Son of Saul can be taken as a fable (a feeble word for so visceral an experience) that ponders the nature of redemption under the most extreme circumstances... Fascinating from beginning to end, Son of Saul is a movie that, among other things, tries to evoke the sensation of being terrorized every moment of every day. (See Maus II, chapter 2 with Art kvetching to his therapist that he can’t begin to imagine what Auschwitz “felt like.”)

  • My friend and colleague Manohla Dargis angrily condemned this film as “radically dehistoricized” and while the characterization is correct I kind of think that a form of dehistoricization was part of director László Nemes’ point. His demonic conception and execution of his Holocaust story, holding claustrophobically tight on his doomed lead character, removes the viewer from the realm of historical contemplation and into the realm of experiential phenomenology.

  • No spoiler here, but I must point out that Nemes brilliantly ties the two principal narratives together. The dual story lines coexist. The film is hardly optimistic, but the one thing this gifted filmmaker grants us at the point of convergence is surprising closure that is an inspired game changer.

  • Nemes isn’t just re-creating unspeakable sadness but electrifying it with a kind of somber energy. For all its intensity, Son of Saul is never ponderous. It moves so quickly, and relies so little on dialogue, that you need to race a little to keep up with it, and to keep your eyes open every second.

  • The most exciting new film I've seen over the past year... Seeing the film as a Jew who knew about the Sonderkommando (and who regarded their job and fate as the very worst of all the Nazis' crimes) but who'd never been forced to identify with them, I found myself sharing Saul's panic and predicament, and that response becomes part of the meaning and significance of the parable.

  • Son of Saul's achievement is to scrape away our benumbed awareness of the Final Solution in the abstract. More chilling than any epic restaging or recitation of statistics, in the movie's context, is a guard placating a chamber-bound prisoner with a tossed-off reassurance: "After the shower, you'll have tea." In that sentence, the banality of evil is distilled.

  • The sense and significance of images is not simply given or self-evident, even in the case of photographs. Any meaning they harbor depends on the viewer’s willingness to see and bear it. Son of Saul remains an undecidable film, and there is no guarantee that it has avoided the moral risks inherent in its project. Its true achievement is its capturing and projecting images that call for real imaginative and ethical work.

  • ++

    Sight & Sound: Nikolaus Wachsmann
    April 01, 2016 | May 2015 Issue (pp. 18-20)

    Son of Saul, the extraordinary debut by Laszlo Nemes, dares to depict the "implacable nakedness of the violence" (as Lanzmann called it), and does so to devastating effect.

  • It has sometimes been suggested that there's little more to be said, in cinematic terms, about the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust, that it has been churned over too often. The single-minded power and visceral immediacy of Nemes' achievement, rightly acclaimed and awarded, prove otherwise.

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